Prep school alumni respond to St. Paul’s rape trial verdict

Today 19 yr old Owen Labrie was found not guilty of raping a 15 year old girl. At the trial, she spent more time on the stand than he did, said he bit her, scraped the inside of her vagina, and that she said no to him several times. The New York Times reports:

“Crying on the stand here, she described the sex acts she said he performed, saying he spit on her, and called her a tease. ‘At one point, I was in so much pain that I jerked backwards.’

Labrie said they never had sex. The jury of 9 men and 3 women convicted him for a lesser charge of aggravated sexual assault.

Labrie and his accuser both went to boarding school at St. Paul’s in Concord, N.H. where he was a soccer captain and straight A student. The night in question was part of “senior salute,” a school tradition “when older students ask younger ones to join them for a walk, a kiss, or more.” Labrie had ” a special key that prosecutors have said had been used and passed around by older boys seeking privacy.” The New York Times reports:

Still, she said she worried about making a bad impression. She was younger. He was older and popular. The senior salute was a St. Paul’s tradition.

“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”

Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.

“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’

Though I blog about rape fairly often on Reel Girl, much more often then I’d like, I’ve been following the St. Paul’s story in particular. I also went to prep school at St George’s in Newport, Rhode Island from 1983 – 1985. One of the first big occasions I remember as a freshman was a tradition called Casino Night where all the new girls dressed up as bunnies. We pretended to sell candy and cigarettes. Here’s a picture of a classmate from my 1983 yearbook.


Here’s how the senior boys dressed for the same night. Notice anything different about their outfits or poses?


The boy on the left was also the senior prefect which is prep school speak for school president. I don’t think there had ever been a female student in this role when I went to the school. When I arrived there, there were 5 senior prefects: 4 males to 1 female, a typical ratio (and another example of the Smurfette Principle or Minority Feisty.)


The guy on the upper left is the one referred to in this picture below of my best friend and me captioned “Todd’s toys.”


His bequeath in the yearbook is “a 20 year sentence” because that’s what you get for rape.


I wasn’t raped at St. George’s. The bequeath is just a joke, a rape joke. The prefects pictured I remember as being mostly nice guys operating within a sexist culture that glorified treating girls like conquests. I’m posting these pictures, captions, jokes, and quotes from my yearbook to show the school’s systemic sexism in 1983. Most importantly, I don’t recall the rampant gender inequality on campus ever addressed by any teacher, parent, adviser, therapist, or any adult. Being a “bad girl,” I was expelled in 1985 (for drinking and smoking.) I hoped things had gotten better since my time, but the St. Paul’s story convinces me that rape culture remains alive and well at America’s prep schools.

A St. George’s classmate, Clymer Bardsley had a similar experience of total lack of guidance or help from any adults around gender roles and expectations. Today, also enraged after reading the news story, Clymer wrote this email to Michael Hirschfeld, the rector of St Paul’s:

I went to St. George’s School in the 80s and am a heterosexual, success-oriented, competitive guy. I remember being self-conscious about my not getting any action while some of my male friends got tons. I felt less-than, like a loser when it came to girls and sex. That feeling went with me to Middlebury College and remained into adulthood.

Nowhere in my development in the competitive worlds of New York, Newport, or Middlebury did any adult ever reinforce in me that it is alright to go at your own pace, that sex isn’t competition. The cultural norm was that sex was another place to be competitive, where you could be classified as a winner or a loser.

As rector of a now humiliated prep school, I hope you will make it your top priority to make sure that all of your kids and their families know that competition belongs on a playing field and perhaps in the classroom but nowhere near sex and relationships.

It appalls me every time I see a picture of that boy. I think, “How dare he!” And I don’t even know if he did anything wrong. What I do know is that the culture he went to school in enabled him to get into a very dicey place…

Your’s is a tough job and I don’t envy you. Protect our kids, though, the predators and their prey. They need those of us in charge to provide safety for them.

Here’s hoping you have a successful 2015-16 year!


I hope more students and alumni speak out, that these elite schools with access to so much money and power take major steps to radically change their courses, becoming the leaders they should be in stopping sexism, sexual assault, and rape on campus.

‘Inside Out’ and the brilliance of our emotions

Proceed immediately to the theater and go see “Inside Out” even if you have no children. Pixar’s latest may be my favorite animated movie EVER. Powerful female protagonist CHECK. Complex female characters in supporting roles CHECK meaning “Inside Out” does NOT feature Minority Feisty!!!! Spectacular animation and compelling story telling CHECK and CHECK.

Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeup

I am not alone in loving “Inside Out.” I don’t think I’ve read a negative review. My daughters and I had fascinating conversations after the movie: My six year old said she was Joy and my eight year old picked Disgust to describe herself. They talked about which emotions their friends are and different members of their family. But then they also had a talk about how they are– and all people are– all of the emotions. Other emotions personified in the movie are Sadness, Anger, and Fear. My kids talked about what emotions they didn’t see in the story– Embarrassment and Meditation which I interpreted as Serenity or Calm. We talked about which emotions branch off of others, and that all emotions need to be valued and felt which happens to be the point of the movie. That conversation began in the  backseat of the car going home and is still going on today.

Riley, the star and the setting for the movie (most of it takes place in her head) is an 11 year ice hockey star from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco. I appreciated the depiction of the city, where I happen to live, as foggy-gloomy and infested with broccoli covered pizza. While I have grown to love my home, I understood Riley’s experience of it as gray and depressing. I totally had those moments as a kid and still do. Riley longs for seasons that included snow. Depicting Riley as an ice hockey fan not only highlighted her aggression, joy, and skill but cleverly showed how alienated she feels in California. There is another (another!) cool female character in the movie, Riley’s BFF from home.


The two emotions with the biggest parts in the film– Joy and Sadness– are also female. Disgust is female too. Riley’s mom is also an ice hockey fan and player, though they do make the move for the busy dad’s job.

Amy Poehler who plays Joy said she was proud to be in this movie and that it makes the world a better place. I agree.

Reel Girl rates “Inside Out” ***HHH***

Tucker Carlson, Jerry Garcia, and me

After I was on Fox News Saturday morning to discuss Amazon dropping its girl/ boy filters for toys and games many of you asked me about Tucker Carlson’s intro of me as his high school classmate. (I can’t figure out how to embed the video here, so if you’re more tech saavy than me, please post the link.)


Yes, it’s true! Tucker and I went the same boarding school, though I was expelled sophomore year. Tucker went on to marry the headmaster’s daughter in the school chapel. That pretty much epitomizes our differing experiences in prepland, his successful, mine not so much.


Here’s a blurry pic from the 80’s of us at a Grateful Dead concert. I’m in the front and Tucker is to the left wearing glasses. Jerry Garcia, looking rather skinny and two dimensional, is a cardboard cut out. Looking back on high school, I don’t know if Tucker was better behaved than me –I was suspended for smoking a cigarette in the dorm and then kicked out the following year for drinking or if he– like a lot of the kids who made it through boarding school– was just more skilled at giving the appearance of following all those seemingly endless rules.

If you watch the video, you can see I vehemently disagree with Tucker on Amazon’s decision– and most issues along with probably all of the other hosts on Fox News. Still, at least the network had me on to speak. I got a national platform to address about an issue I care about which is more than CNN or MSNBC has offered me recently.

I’ll leave one with one more nugget of prep school trivia. Julie Bowen, then known as Julie Luetkemeyer, the actress from “Modern Family” (and from kidworld “Planes: Fire and Rescue”) was in our class as well. As brilliant and beautiful then as now, she was probably the smartest kid in our class.


Finally, I didn’t get a chance to mention it in the 3.5 minutes I was on TV, but Amazon didn’t fully drop its filters. Read the details in my update here.




Catholic school parent protests new teachers’ handbook calling masturbation “gravely evil”

This is a guest post from a concerned parent in the Bay Area in response to a chilling policy from the Archbishop of San Francisco.  I appreciate the words written below because they show how torn, conflicted, and frightened people can be about speaking out and making change in a church they love and grew up in. (I chose this picture because at least the guy likes pink.)

I am writing this statement anonymously.  I am a parent at a Catholic school in San Francisco.  I must remain anonymous so that I do not affect my child adversely for expressing views contrary to those of the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone.

The Archbishop released a new policy statement which will be inserted into the teachers handbooks in the four high schools the Archdiocese controls. He asserts that to affirm or believe in masturbation, artificial insemination, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and abortion is “gravely evil.”  Not only does he judge these as “gravely evil,” he is forbidding teachers in these four highschools from asserting contrary views and/or participating in communication or activities or organizations that express contrary views. He states that violation of this policy will be determined on a case by case basis.  For example, you can attend a same sex wedding ceremony, but you cannot be on the Board of Planned Parenthood. In other words, whatever action the Archbishop happens to decide does not meet his “standards” gives him the power to terminate the teacher. His policy is chilling of speech, capricious, threatening and wrong.

I attended Catholic grammar school and high school, and University of San Francisco Law School, a Catholic Jesuit University.  I am so grateful for the incredible education I received at these Catholic institutions.  I experienced thought provoking discussions and analysis in high school religion and English classes.  I was taught to think for myself.  Both students and teachers represented and argued for a myriad of viewpoints and ideas.  I was challenged on Sundays, not just to sit through mass with an empty stomach — as we had to fast before Communion in the old days– but to listen to the stories of kindness and love almost beyond human capacity.  The Father who gives a huge celebration for the prodigal son.  The good son who works hard for many years while his brother squanders his money and drinks and plays.  It was the jealous brother, not the frivolous one, who was chastised in the story.  So we are challenged to give love, kindness and forgiveness even when an unfairness gives advantage to another who wants redemption. These kind of stories, of radical forgiveness, acceptance and love, I hold in my heart as the ideals I strive for — to welcome my reckless brother, to celebrate and love my irresponsible child on his/her return to my home, to be the better person.

I feel challenged to embrace this Archbishop even though his careless and callous unkindness espouses universal control over classrooms, teachers and thereby students.  He threatens teachers with dismissal if they dissent from his view of sexual morality and his description of all matter of practices of sexuality as “gravely evil”.  This harsh and narrow-minded judge who maintains unfettered control of the Archdiocese that includes San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties, even he who is doing such harsh and harmful work, I must find a way to show love and kindness toward him.  I must try to find compassion.  This is the kind of challenge posed to me as a Catholic, to love someone who is threatening me and those I love and care for, my child, my child’s teachers, his school and the church itself.  I am struggling with this.  That is what Catholicism challenges me to do — to love all, no matter what they do, no matter who they are, prisoner, prostitute, bishop, teacher, homeless, myself, my children, my enemy, each and everyone.  Love and kindness is our code as Catholics.


I am struggling with holding love and compassion for this Archbishop.  I find his imposition of his views on sexual morality on the teachers of the Archdiocese unkind, unloving, chilling of speech and intellectual discourse and development.  Putting these particular ideas and the threat of termination of teachers who offer contrary views or publicly support entities that embody contrary views, is threatening to the teachers livelihood, their personhood, their ability to speak and to teach well.  The Archbishop’s representative was on Forum this morning, a nationally broadcast radio program out of San Francisco.  He indicated over and over that the teachers are to hold the Archbishop’s sexual morality belief, allow kids to say what they want, and to persuade the kids, bring them back to the Archbishop’s position.  I am Catholic and this is NOT what I want.  I do not want my kids to be persuaded/indoctrinated in these views.  I do not want anyone to persuade them of their views. I want my kids to develop their own views and to become their own person in the context of a Catholic community that promotes love, kindness, tolerance, compassion.  I want to trust that these tools are enough to guide my child into adulthood and into becoming a good person, maybe even a good Catholic person.  I do not want them to learn to control, dominate, judge, restrain others.


Any expression, sexual or otherwise, when done to excess or to hurt yourself or another person is wrong.  Unkindness is wrong.  Hate is wrong.  Violence is wrong.  Hurting another intentionally or with callous disregard is wrong.  There are plenty of things that are wrong.  There are very few acts or people who are “gravely evil”.  And many evil acts are perpetrated by people who appear evil, but in fact are simply gravely ill and need our love, compassion and kindness.  War is wrong.  Killing is wrong.  Terrorizing others is wrong.  Abuse is wrong.  This policy is terrorizing teachers, staff and thereby potentially terrorizing students, parents, others who, for example, use assistance from doctors to get pregnant, or who live in a homosexual relationship, or God forbid, disagree with the Archbishop’s view of sexual morality.


Recently, I wrote a letter to the Vatican representative in Washington DC to ask for help to return civility, love and kindness to our Archdiocese.  I hope that Archbishop Vigano will pass along our concerns to Pope Francis who represents fully the Catholic ideals of love and kindness I learned, experienced and strive to embody in my own life.


An anonymous, terrified, saddened parent of a student in a Catholic high school.


The following is the letter I wrote to Archbishop Vigano, the Vatican’s representative in Washington D.C.:



Your Excellency Vigano,


With all due respect, I submit a letter I received from my son’s high school.  It is a very nice letter and includes all the wonderful and amazing principles supported by Pope Francis — love, inclusion, respect, et cetera.  I am so grateful for the kindness of the staff at (my child’s school).


I am concerned about the letter from Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone that is on (the Archdiocese of San Francisco) website, and is linked in the body of this letter.  The letter threatens to chill dialogue in school and beyond, and threatens the secure employment of teachers and staff.  The tone is very upsetting to me as a person and a lifelong Catholic. Further, the text of the policy was not included with the letter, making the insinuations in the letter that much more frightening and unnerving.  The words in the policy were reported in the newspaper, and were also extremely upsetting.


The action taken with publishing this letter and the policy statement does not reflect the love and kindness that Pope Francis has so consistently shown through his words and actions.  Please help to restore to our Archdiocese, the love, kindness, respect and all the virtues that Pope Francis has so eloquently demonstrated in his work as the head of our church.


Thank you and God bless you.




Scholastic video features Taylor Swift on reading, writing, and feminism

My kids and I just watched a very cool 30 minute Scholastic video where Taylor Swift talks with students about reading, writing, and feminism. We found the video because my 11 year old entered an essay contest where she wrote one page about the meaning of Swift’s “Shake it Off” which to her (and probably most people) is a song about how to overcome bullying.


A die hard Swift fan, here’s my daughter holding her finally finished (almost finished?) essay and her beloved guitar. I am very psyched Taylor inspired her to think about her experiences with bullying and to write about her feelings.


Obsessed with Taylor since 2012 (and always told she looks like her) here she is dressed as her idol on Halloween that year.


I was so happy she picked Taylor instead of a sparkly poofy princess, or witch or vampire with a costume that looks just like a princess. (Her younger sister in the background is Batgirl. Unfortunately, she has since realized Batgirl hardly exists in the world and has now lost interest in that character. Sad!)

I can’t believe we hadn’t seen this Scholastic/ Swift video! It’s so good. You must watch it with your kids. Swift is sitting around with a bunch of students and more students are Skyped in. What I loved is that first and foremost, Swift defines herself as a writer. I really appreciated my kids hearing Taylor say this because they think of her as a pop star. Taylor says that she would never want to get on stage and just sing someone else’s songs. She recommends journaling. After introducing the kids, Taylor opens the video with this statement:

I’m really excited to talk to you about reading and writing because I wouldn’t be a songwriter if it wasn’t for books that I loved as a kid and I think that when you can escape into a book it trains your imagination to think big and to think that more can exist than what you see. I think that’s been the basis of why I wanted to write songs and why writing became my career.

What’s the first question, from a 11 year old boy?

I saw that you liked the Emma Watson video about feminism, and I wanted to know what female characters influenced you in literature?

Can you see why love this video? Watch it now with you kids and find out what Taylor says! Here’s the link.

Previous Reel Girl blogs on Taylor Swift:

Taylor Swift spoofs psycho ex-girlfriend trope in ‘Blank Space’ video

Mini Taylor Swift gets her hands on ‘1989’ as it hits stores

If Taylor Swift is boy-crazy, is Dylan’s ‘Idiot Wind’ confessional?

I admit it, I loveTaylor Swift’s ‘Red’

Taylor Swift sings her way from victim to hero, triumphs at Grammys

More on Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift



Berkeley High students, and their moms, launch campaign to stop school sexual harassment

After male students at Berkeley High started “slut accounts” on Instagram, featuring photos of their female classmates along with misogynistic captions, they were suspended. A group of students felt this punishment was a pretty useless way to deal with the systemic sexism they encounter every day at school. These girls took action, creating T-shirts that read “Stop blaming my body for your harassment” and raising money on a GoFundMe page. So far, they’ve collected over $5,000. They hope to fund education and training for students, teachers, and administrators on sexual harassment and how to stop it.


Students were pushed into action by clueless administrators who held a series of assemblies on harassment that focused on how female students were dressed. Girls were actually warned to think about whether their mothers would allow them to leave the house wearing a certain outfit. But these Berkeley moms were not the type who schooled their daughters on how not to look “cheap” (as opposed to expensive?) or “fast” or “loose.” Refusing to pass sexism on to their kids, the mothers did get pissed at the school. Two of them, Heidi Goldstein and Rebecca Levenson, who is also policy analyst working to stop sexual violence with the nonprofit Futures Without Violence, wrote an op-ed for the Berkeleyside, laying out their daughters rights. Berkeleyside reports:

The student group plans eventually to challenge what they understand to be violations of Title IX. This includes reactive versus preventive measures, insufficient security, unsatisfactory long-term protection for assault survivors, as well as a lack of staff training.


Training is obviously desperately needed. When the slut pages came out, the security guards didn’t seem to get it at all. Sami Kuderna-Reeve, a senior and target of the slut accounts told Berkeleyside:

“It was all male security guards and all male police officers, and to a certain degree they can’t understand or relate,” Kuderna-Reeves said. “They were trying to help but what they kept getting at was, ‘Well is that true? Did you do blank?’”


While administrators are still slow to respond, teachers say they would like training on how to handle situations where students are sexually harassed and to give students guidance on how to handle those issues as well. History teacher Hasmig Minassian tells Berkeleyside she’d like to know “how to help adolescents navigate some pretty tumultuous social dynamics.” Right now, teachers at Berkeley High– and most high schools across the country– get no training in how to help kids in this area. It is shocking to me that students and their moms need to be the ones to get funding to teach administrators what to do about sexual harassment in schools. Part of these kids’s motivation for acting now is that they believe the measures finally being taken to stop sexual assaults on college campuses nationally are happening way too late in students’ lives. I could not agree more.

Maya Siskin-Lavine, a junior, tells Berkeleyside: “One of our main goals is to teach people. I know for a fact that a lot of the guys that I respect as my peers just don’t know that a lot of things are sexual harassment. They think catcalling is flattering and that what I wear should affect how guys treat me.”

I am so impressed with these girls and their mothers. I would love to see more moms speak out loudly and publicly for their daughters rights.

I just donated to this awesome campaign, and I hope that you do as well.

Pitt joins Jolie at summit against sexual violence

I’m posting this photo and headline (up above) because it’s inspiring to watch people acting together to make the world a better place.


I am so grateful that Angelina Jolie gives her star power, her brain power, and her money to help women and girls around the world. I’m also impressed that Pitt has always supported her publicly. He never gives the impression that the conferences he attends are limited “women’s issues” that he condescends to be involved with. These conferences are about human rights. This couple– the images, text, and narratives that accompany them– make clear that women and men can love, support, and inspire each other, working to change the world.

One more thing this photo tells me: Don’t waste your time arguing with the backwards ideas of people like the “educated” and “brilliant” George Will. A while back, I posted parts of and commented on An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate from It’s a great post for me, because in the past, I’ve felt obligated to speak to people who drag me backwards. Writer Juliana Britto points out in the post– these are my words– that she doesn’t  have the time to make entertaining cocktail conversation for people about the ideas she cares about just for their entertainment. Talking about these ideas is emotionally draining. If I’m trying to get to Z, I don’t have time to engage with the people that want to keep me at A. Especially when, as Britto points out we’ve heard it all before for thousands of years:

Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth.

But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time.


Here’s to hoping all of us act, do, and give money instead of just talking.

Read the story about Jolie, Pitt, and the summit against sexual violence here.

‘An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate’

There is an amazing post on titled: An open letter to privileged people who play devil’s advocate. I am so thankful that Juliana Britto wrote these words. I am so fucking sick of people arguing with me just to argue, just because it’s fun for them. It drives me crazy that people act like I haven’t heard all of their arguments “proving” me wrong about one million times before. I mean, seriously, Western civilization is based on your arguments, and you really think I haven’t heard them before???? When people persist with me, frustrated that I’m not “into it” they often claim that I’m the one “censoring” them or “closing my mind.”  Britto writes about this issue much more eloquently than I:

Some might challenge that I am shutting myself off to new ideas and censoring important opportunities for growth.

But these ideas you are forcing me to consider are not new. They stem from centuries of inequality and your desperate desire to keep them relevant is based in the fact that you benefit from their existence. Let it go. You did NOT come up with these racist, misogynistic theories. We’ve heard them before and we are f*cking tired of being asked to consider them, just one. more. time.


Got that? Don’t want to hear it. I’ve already heard it, read it, seen it for my entire life. Britto makes another important point people who argue with me for fun don’t seem to get:

It is physically and emotionally draining to be called upon to prove that these systems of power exist.


Right on, sister. Please, don’t use me for your fun and entertainment. I’m interested in changing the world, not keeping you from boredom. Again, Britto is more eloquent than me:


Imagine having weights tied to your feet and a gag around your mouth, and then being asked to explain why you think you are at an unfair disadvantage. Imagine watching a video where a young man promises to kill women who chose not to sleep with him and then being forced to engage with the idea that maybe you are just a hysterical feminist seeing misogyny where there is none. It is incredibly painful to feel that in order for you to care about my safety, I have to win this verbal contest you have constructed “for fun.”


When I was 28 years old, I was a producer for a talk radio show. The host of that show gave me a gift that changed my life. He consistently– even if he disagreed with me– helped me figure out my thought process. When I was at Point A and I wanted to get to Point Z, he helped me get there. I would make a point and he would say, “Yeah, I get it,” and then give several reasons why what I said made sense or was true. It was a remarkable skill that helped me to develop and grow as a thinker and as a person. Most people, when you say something new, will argue with you at Point A, tell you all the reasons why what you’re saying doesn’t make sense or can’t be true, so you never, ever get to Point Z. That, or silence. Those responses can be soul killing, especially if you are young, a young woman not used to being listened to or taken seriously, with baby ideas that you’re trying to develop.

Read the whole Britto’s whole post here.

Why do men in America feel entitled to women? A gallery of reasons

On the Santa Barbara massacre, the Atlantic reports:

Suffice it to say that the killer was a misogynist, and that lots of women have reacted to his rampage by reflecting on how women are denied full personhood.


PolyMic reports:

Rather than seeing Elliot Rodger as a product of society, the media has depicted him as a bloodthirsty madman, a mere glitch in the system.


New Statesman reports:

The ideology behind these attacks – and there is ideology – is simple. Women owe men. Women, as a class, as a sex, owe men sex, love, attention, “adoration”

I’m reposting a blog I wrote after seeing Jimmy Fallon’s Vanity Fair cover. Look at these images. When will women in America be recognized as human beings equal to men?

Vanity Fair’s sexist Jimmy Fallon profile erases his wife, highlights Victoria Secret models

I’m a huge Jimmy Fallon fan. This is why I bought the new Vanity Fair where he’s on the cover even though it annoyed me that Fallon is shown in a suit while he’s flanked by two nameless women in bathing suits.


There are more pics of Fallon and naked women inside the magazine. Reading the caption, I learned that the women are Victoria Secret models.

There is a third picture of Fallon and the women at what looks like New York’s Natural History museum. Once again, the women are in skimpy bikinis and we get a full view of ass. Fallon is once again pictured in a suit.

Showing important, powerful men fully clothed while women appear as naked accessories underscores the idea that men valued for what they do and think, while women are valued for how they appear. Vanity Fair repetitively resorts to this sexism. There’s a famous photo featuring naked Scarlett Johanssen, Keira Knightly, and Tom Ford. When Rachel McAdams refused to undress, she was asked to leave.


Of course, Vanity Fair is hardly alone in promoting this sexist imagery. Here are five GQ covers that came out simultaneously: four men are shown in suits, one woman is shown naked.


What about Rolling Stone?



There’s Justin Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision” video where he is clothed and the women are naked.

Many claimed Timberlake was copying Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” video where he is clothed and the women are naked, a pairing repeated in the infamous Miley Cyrus performance (where Miley was blamed for being a slut.)

“Alternative” musicians resort to the same cliche. Did you see Nick Cave’s latest album cover?


The truth is, we’ve been dealing with the clothed man-naked woman pairing for a long time. Here’s a famous painting by Edouard Manet in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris that would make a perfect Vanity Fair cover.


But here’s what really pissed me off about the Jimmy Fallon article. As I wrote, I’m a fan of the comedian, but part of the reason I bought the magazine is because I wanted to know more about his wife, Nancy Juvonen. She’s a film producer and a business partner of Drew Barrymore. Both Barrymore and Juvonen are interested in making movies where cool women get to have adventures. I wanted to hear the whole story about how Juvonen and Fallon met and fell in love, just the kind of thing you’d expect to find in a Vanity Fair profile right? They recently had a daughter, Winnie, so I assumed Fallon would be asked about being a new father. I’m an avid reader of Us Weekly and People and I often see pictures of their family. Fallon is always cuddling his baby, playing with her, smiling at her, and I was curious about his thoughts on raising a girl in the world. Another thing I wanted to hear about: Fallon is 39 while Juvonen is 46, a rare gap in Hollywood where a woman’s age is measured closer to dog years than man years. Do you see my point here? Fallon married a successful career woman who is 7 years older than him, and this, besides his talent, is part of the reason I admire the guy. But here’s the weird thing: Nancy Juvonen is missing from Fallon’s profile.

Juvonen isn’t mentioned at all until 5 pages into the piece. After writing that Fallon always watched “SNL” alone, the text reads:

His one concession to adulthood is that he now watches the program with his wife, the film producer Nancy Juvonen, and if she is awake his baby daughter, Winnie, born last July.

Can you imagine Vanity Fair doing a profile on a famous woman and not mentioning her big time producer husband or her new baby until page 5? The piece goes on for two more pages and there are just two more brief references to Juvonen. Here’s all the magazine has to say on how they met and why they married.

Though the Fever Pitch experience had a saving grace–it was through the film that he met Juvonen, one of its producers who he would marry in 2007– he considers his LA years kind of a lost period.

Here’s the final reference to Juvonen, about persuading Fallon to become the “Tonight Show” host.

It was Fallon’s wife who persuaded him to go with Michael’s instinct. “Nancy was like, ‘You’ve got to try it. You’ll be one of three human beings who have done it– Letterman, Conan, and you. You have to do it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work,’” Fallon said.

That’s it. WTF? All Fallon’s wife gets in a profile is a few sentences in passing coupled with a cover and three photos where he’s shown with naked women? That’s not the Jimmy Fallon I love or wanted to read about.

‘If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on screen, I’ll be happy’

Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”


I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.

These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.


Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:

Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body

Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:

If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live,  I’ll be happy.


YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’

we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?


Here’s how hooks responded:

Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.


hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.

that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.


hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:

I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?


That, right there, is what my whole blog Reel Girl is about. What does gender equality look like? Do we have any idea? Where do we see it, even in the fantasy world? If we can’t imagine it, we can’t create it. There is no good reason for the fantasy world– especially the fantasy world created for children— to be sexist, to put males front and center again and again, while females are literally marginalized and sexualized, stuck on the sidelines if they get to exist at all. To repeat, hooks says:

The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business

hooks wants new images. She says:

I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.


Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.

By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.


Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.


In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:

So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”



Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”

Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.”  So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.

Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:

My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.


(This happens to be the second blog I’ve written about this talk. The earlier blog was all about Marci Blackman, who spoke about how she was stopped and searched by TSA agents because they couldn’t tell if she was male or female. No media outlets that I know of covered that discrimination story either.)

hooks ends the talk with this statement:

The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.

Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.

We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.


Update: I just saw “Belle.” It’s such a great film that has to do with everything I blogged about here. Please go see it! Read my review here: “Belle” most extraordinary movie of the year, take your kids!